TMJ stands for temperomandibular joint, and trouble in that spot just in front of each ear is responsible for head and neck pain, stopped-up ears and dizziness in many people whose doctors often start looking for other causes. Because it can bring on many different symptoms and imitate a host of diseases, TMJ syndrome is one of medicines's masqueraders.
TMJ occurs at one time or another in at least 10% of the population, mostly amont women between 20 and 46. It is sometimes detected in young children. Symptoms of TMJ dysfunction are varied and easily confused with other physiological or organic trouble in the head or neck. The problem may be minor and easily-treated, or serious and more difficult to manage. But finding the cause and alleviating the symptoms takes experience and skill. That is why diagnosis and treatment of TMJ dysfunction has become a separate specialty of some dentists and orthodontists. A recommendation from friends or relatives satisfied with their treatment can be a start.
Some TMJ patients may have a functional problem such as difficulty swallowing or opening and closing their mouths. Others may suffer from migraine-like pain, sinusitis and "tic douloureaux" which is one of the most excruciating pains known. Still others report no pain, only ringing in the ears.
TMJ trouble has been recognized and studied for over 40 years, but is still often misdiagnosed. Dr. Garner has been researching and treating TMJ related problems for over 30 years.
Treatment of TMJ Dysfunction
At first the focus is on reducing painful muscle spasm with heat, massage and medications that relax the muscles and kill pain. This may bring symptoms under control within 1-2 weeks. If not, a more complicated treatment attempts to correct malocclusion by getting the upper and lower jaws to mesh again. Occlusal restoration involves fixing bad teeth and replacing missing ones. This might be enough to relieve the pain and discomort of mild TMJ dysfunction.
With equilibration, another form of treatment, Dr. Garner will grind away high spots and fill in low spots on the teeth, allowing the jaw muscles to relax. Enamel lost in this process does not make teeth vulnerable to decay.
A bite plate, an individually fitted acrylic mouthpiece that slips onto the lower or upper teeth, can reposition the jaw or redistribute the stress. Dental orthotics concentrates on the jaw's position and muscle function rather than on the teeth, with instruction, training and exercises tailored specifically to each patient. Treatments take place every 2-3 weeks over a 3-month span. There is also a drug-free, mind-over-matter treatment called biofeedback. By learning to relax the muscles involed, some patients succeed in reducing tension and pain. In extreme cases, surgery may be the only option to relieve TMJ dysfunction.